As we enter a high risk mastitis period, farmers are being urged to keep an eye on somatic cell counts to maintain herd health and maximise productivity.
Rob Fowkes, nutritional advisor at QLF, explains that when cows are out at grass, pathogens build-up and this can cause a spike in mastitis cases and therefore somatic cell counts (SCC).
“As turnout was delayed this year, until now we have seen low SCC counts due to low pathogen build up. But, as we enter a period of hot weather it will be critical to take action to protect herds against infection as the sun and flies will increase pathogen build up at grass.
“High SCC can be damaging to a producer’s bottom line as milk contract bonuses are likely to be compromised, and there will also be an increased need to treat with antibiotics,” says Rob.
“For this reason, it’s important to act preventatively to help maintain herd health and drive profitability,” he adds.
Mr Fowkes explains that ensuring dairy diets contain adequate levels of highly available zinc can help to minimise the risk of mastitis, reducing SCC and limiting the use of antibiotics.
“Zinc plays an important role in the production of keratin, which makes up the plug at the end of the teat. This keratin plug traps any bacteria preventing it from moving up into the udder and causing mastitis,” he says.
“As around 40% of keratin is stripped from the teat canal during milking every day, it needs continuous replacement, so ensuring you’re feeding adequate levels of zinc can help ensure it’s replaced.
“The mineral also helps to repair damaged cells in the teat, speeding up the rate at which wounds heal, reducing the time cows will be at risk of mastitis infection,” he says.
“It’s been found that feeding a liquid feed containing zinc, such as QLF Optimiser CF, can reduce SCC by up to 40%, because the keratin plug has been adequately replaced. And, because the mineral is suspended in liquid it’s easily dispersed throughout the ration, making sure that each cow receives the right amount.”
Mr Fowkes explains that alongside nutrition, it’s important to maintain a good milking routine and ensure that teats are cleaned and disinfected before and after the cluster is removed.